Some stuff is stronger

One character in Per Wahlöö’s Uppdraget says that for some people, cynicism is a prerequisite for existence. Generally I’m pretty good at it, but certain things are stronger than me.

Like The Wall by Pink Floyd. I’ve seen it for the first time when I was still in my teens, a few more times since then, but when I’ve watched it tonight after a couple of years, once again I couldn’t help getting highly emotional every now and then. When, for example, they sang

Hush now baby baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you
Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing
She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing
Mama’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm
Ooooh babe, ooooh babe, ooooh babe
Of course mama’s gonna help build the wall

I’ve almost drowned in self-pity. Still, a residue of cynicism reminded me that there must be (and must have been) lots of other people whose lives have been enormously damaged by too much parental love. And I watched the film through, despite several other successful attacks on my imperturbability. But I had to write this self-centered piece to shake the despair and anxiety off me.

I didn’t mean to say I regret having watched it again. It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and after all, to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose.



Hunterian Art Gallery

What with one thing and another, I was getting stuck in a rut just like at the beginning of the previous year. But the spell is broken. One of my first shifts after the accident brought me to Tillicoultry and today I forced myself, instead of sitting at the laptop, to visit another place I had intended to see for months.

Call me a Philistine, but for all those Dutch masters, Whistlers, Scottish Colorists and so forth I liked best another Glasgow Boy painting. A fairly large one, which in reality looks much better than on a laptop screen.

James Paterson: Moniaive (1885).
© Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow.

Not that there weren’t other good ones, for instance Alfred Sisley’s The Church of Moret-sur-Loing, Rainy Morning Weather; but only this Paterson forced me return and see it once again before I left. And it’s this Paterson I’ll be heading to if I find myself in the gallery again.


David Jones in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

Sometimes it’s hard to argue with gay marriage opponents because their logic, if so it may be called, is simply incomprehensible. An outstanding example from the recent months is the approach of David Jones, the Secretary of State for Wales. According to the BBC, he told the ITV “I regard marriage as an institution […] for the provision of a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children, which is clearly something that two same-sex partners can’t do.” That would be a legitimate opinion, if the programme wasn’t followed by his statement “I did not say in the interview that same-sex partners should not adopt children and that is not my view.” In other words, Mr Hatter Jones has no problem with a gay couple bringing children up in an unsafe environment, as long as their union isn’t called a “marriage”. Go figure.


Facebook II

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog explaining why, despite spending almost all my spare time on the Net, I didn’t have a Facebook account and didn’t intend to create one. My arguments were that (1) I believed it was really all about using people’s data for marketing, (2) it didn’t have a single feature I couldn’t get in better quality elsewhere, (3) it was too pervasive and too dominant with all the dangers this entailed and (4) I didn’t have time to follow yet another website.

The pervasiveness means I can’t avoid coming across its being mentioned every now and then; usually something reinforcing my conviction that as far as I’m concerned, Facebook simply sucks. For instance the Rushdie affair, disclosing their determination to decide what should people call themselves. Or, contrarily, the Instagram scandal, showing that they wouldn’t mind selling your photos to somebody else for advertising. And so on.

Recently they unveiled a software sort of turning an Android phone into a Facebook one. I don’t think the privacy worries are well grounded: you’re already sacrificing your privacy by having a smartphone and being on Facebook to such an extent that their combination can hardly do much more damage. But it’s just another proof that they and I live in different universes. I simply don’t see how is the application supposed to be useful to anybody – except those for whom food is synonymous with McDonald’s and Internet with Facebook.


À propos of minimum pricing

“Just look at the figures. In the 1960s, we were drinking 160 litres each a year and weren’t taking any pills. Today we consume 80 million packets of anti-depressants, and wine sales are collapsing. Wine is the subtlest, most civilised, most noble of anti-depressants. But look at our villages. The village bar has gone, replaced by a pharmacy.”

Denis Saverot, editor, La Revue des Vins de France
(source: BBC)


Spelling reforms

It’s no secret that the English orthography is complicated and full of inconsistencies. This leads to occasional calls for its reform: some would like to see it more phonetic, others would like the rules loosened to permit more alternative spellings. They usually sound tolerably reasonable until they start giving examples, after which it is easy for those in favour of keeping the status quo to pick up a handful of the most objectionable ones and use these to deride the whole concept.

Both sides are driven by laziness. Supporters of a spelling reform are motivated by being too lazy (or accepting others as too lazy) to learn those complicated rules and inconsistencies. Opponents are motivated by being too lazy to unlearn them and learn a large new set instead.

In the meantime, a spelling reform or even revolution is quietly happening with the help of information technology. You may be a stickler yourself, but you can hardly avoid noticing the multitudes of people who can’t spell “properly”, and of those who obviously don’t even bother to try. Some entirely ignore punctuation (except for smileys), some treat apostrophes more like an ornamental than an orthographic feature, some naïvely rely on spellcheckers and so on. Some even obviously misspell intentionally because it makes them feel they are “cool”. Sticklers are naturally horrified.

But that’s the way of a living language. Just like some spoken words and grammatical structures become obsolete, others change, yet others survive unchanged and new ones appear, so do spellings. The more so nowadays, when even people who would, twenty years ago, only read their tabloid and maybe write a few Christmas postcards, happily mail, text, post, comment, tweet… Which is the basic problem for any spelling reform: whatever it proposes, for most people it would either go too far or not enough. And they would ignore it as best they could.



It is often hard to remember a word if you have no reason to use it; once the concept the word describes becomes relevant to your life, it gets stuck in your memory quite effortlessly. Take ‘clavicle’, for example…

When I found a new job in December, one of its perks was that it involved travelling all over Scotland: in less than two months I visited and revisited places I otherwise wouldn’t get to any time soon, if ever. Everything comes at a price, though…

I love this country. Sometimes, however, it seems as though it is testing how strong my love for it is. As if it maintained that all life is in balance and if I want to get more out it, I must likewise pay more…

Sometimes being underprivileged may be a blessing in disguise: it can help you to put up with troubles more easily, because in a sense you are used to having to put up with things. Used to gritting your teeth and counting your blessings…

There are several ways to write this blog. The cold facts remain the same: last Friday, dozing off in the company van carrying me back from a job we had in Aberdeen, I was suddenly awoken by the vehicle’s swerving to and fro before it ended up on its side next to the A90 somewhere near Forfar. My memories of these few seconds are not too clear; what I do know is that there was certainly no film of my life reeling before my eyes; I simply thought “only not death, please, I can cope with anything else”. Oddly, I don’t think I was much afraid of death; my mind probably didn’t have enough time to really accept the possibility.

Anyway, the next thing I remember clearly is sitting on a window inside the overturned van with my elbows on my knees and my head hanging down. Unless I tried to move my left arm I felt hardly any pain, but breathing was a bit hard and my blood pressure was low. In fact, it felt like many a morning in the past when going into withdrawal after a proper booze-up. Once more my brain seemed to focus on imagining how nice it would be if I could get something to drink, preferably a dram of Scotch and a glass of water to chase it down, and reassuring itself that after so many cold turkeys I would be able to get by again.

People kept asking me whether I was all right and telling me that the ambulance was on the way. I felt a bit ashamed by so much attention, supposing I just had to rest for a while until my blood pressure rose again. At the moment I had no idea that the few drops of blood I saw on my shoes didn’t come from some superficial scratch but from a bleeding wound on my scalp which would later demand five stitches. When some five or ten minutes later the ambulance arrived, I was even able to stand up and walk out of the van’s tailgate by myself, helped by the claustrophobic fear that the alternative was waiting until they somehow took the van to pieces.

They sat me to the ambulance, did some first aid examination and treatment, so that I learned that the pain seemingly in my left arm or shoulder was actually a broken or dislocated collarbone, and drove me to Dundee’s Ninewells hospital, there to be presently joined by a workmate who had been sitting in front of me in the van. Bit by bit I had my scalp stitched, my trunk X-rayed, which confirmed the broken collarbone (or as the slip said clavicle) and discovered a small pneumotorax, had my left hand treated with plasters and steristrips and most of the blood washed away. Later they moved me to an adjacent ward, gave me a better meal than I’m used to preparing for myself, two or three coffees and some more painkillers.

I slept fairly well, considering, and after another X-ray in the morning they decided I was dischargeable. The company sent another van to pick me up, which was mighty convenient: I was positive I was bodily able to make it by train, but my jacket was torn so badly that I didn’t fancy using public transport wearing it. (My workmate had to undergo plastic surgery and to spend there another night, though in the long term he was luckier as all his organs stayed fully functional.)

One thing which kept surprising me was how easy it was to endure the waiting without getting impatient – and I couldn’t even smoke. Maybe I was, without realizing it, a bit in a shock to begin with, and later on in the ward the habit of always carrying my Kindle with me proved more provident than could have been previsaged. On the other hand, finding out I had lost my mobile was a bit dispiriting. Used as I am to loneliness, at that particular time I would have liked very much to text or even call Rob or Tòmas. (I thought up some really funny opening lines but couldn’t use them.) So it would seem only natural that when I finally got home, almost the first thing to do was to email the latter and after he took a photo of me, sling, scabs and all, attach it to an email to the former.

And so here I am one week later, slowly getting better, stuffing myself with painkillers, rather inconvenienced by being virtually one-handed, somewhat uncertain about financial matters, but all in all counting my blessings: I’m alive, there was nothing more serious than a broken bone and a partly deflated lung – and I’ve learned a new word or two. Which latest, nevertheless, I hope I won’t need to use too often in the future.